Days after the Panthers signed coach Ron Rivera that would keep him in Carolina through the 2020 season, the team announced on Tuesday that offensive coordinator Mike Shula and quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey have been fired.
Shula joined the organization is 2011 as the quarterbacks coach and was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2013. The Panthers' offense ranked 10th in his first season, according to Football Outsiders. But other than the 2015 season, when Carolina went 15-1, represented the NFC in the Super Bowl and had the No. 8 offense, the unit has been replacement-level or worse, ranking 20th (2014), 25th (2016) and 17th (2017).
Shula came under criticism in Week 7, following a loss to the Bears that prompted Rivera to publicly question the play-calling. But this was nothing new; a month before, in the Panthers' 9-3 win over the Bills, Shula was criticized, and that was the case the following week, when Carolina lost to previously winless New Orleans. The recurring theme was simplification, especially with so many young players.
"We need to look at that," Shula said back in October, via ESPN.com. "And that's a fine line. You don't want to cut it down too much. We've had some moving parts. Not to make an excuse, but it's something we've got to look at. The No. 1 thing, you can have all you want and feel like it'll be good stuff, but if they're not playing fast or not making adjustments we need to make, maybe if it's not the look we think we're going to get, yeah, we've got to make sure we do whatever it takes to make them feel good about it."
Veteran tight end Greg Olsen had a simpler explanation.
"We have to stop making mistakes," he said at the time. "We have to make plays that are there. We have to block better, run better. It sounds cliché and simple, but that's really what it is. The schemes are the schemes. You're not going to trick anybody in the NFL. You're not going to surprise anybody in the NFL. We have to play better."
And the Panthers did play better; they went 7-2 over the final two months of the season before losing to the Saints in Sunday's wild-card game. And whomever succeeds Shula should keep a few things in mind, chief among them: Keep it simple. Also: